OpenCDA

April 5, 2008

Toilet Not Included – Part 5

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 8:30 am
Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this series outlined how the City purchased a precast concrete structure to be used occasionally as a public safety substation in City Park.  If you have read the earlier posts then you might ask (as the agencies, Mayor, Council, and LCDC should have), “How could this project have been administered to better benefit the public and agencies while reducing the cost to the taxpayers?” I’ll try to answer that in this, the last in the five-part series.

This project was a done deal (that’s fait accompli if you’re trying to impress the Mayor) before it ever went to the City Council for a perfunctory unanimous vote and then to the LCDC to write the check.   What puzzled me briefly was why the City was so dead set on a moveable precast concrete building.  Why not a permanent building in the City Park?   Why not a mobile command post

The answer to the permanent building question is that both the City and the LCDC know when the Four Corners Project launches in a very few years as expected, that precast concrete structure will very likely have to be removed.   And because of some federal restrictions on the uses of buildings on City Park land, the structure’s exact placement was constrained.  The City and LCDC would have looked really bad to recommend and fund a truly functional permanent building complete with running water and toilets on the narrow strip of land where it could be lawfully built, only to turn around and destroy it when the Four Corners Project starts.  (By the way, if you want to see just how portable or moveable this precast concrete structure will be, go watch when it is being placed in the park.  That’s the process you will see every time Chief Longo, Chief Gabriel, and Parks Director Eastwood want it moved.)

If true mobility was important as it should have been, why didn’t the City do the obvious thing and purchase a mobile command post or some other special purpose vehicle rather than erecting a precast concrete structure?  Because the City had failed to plan ahead both strategically and financially.  The City desperately wants to have the public safety facility in City Park operational by June 22, preferably by June 15, 2008.  The only way it could get the funding quickly enough to possibly make that happen was to get the money from the First Unregulated Bank of Idaho, the Bucket-O-Cash, our very own urban renewal agency, the Lake City Development Corporation.  

The hitch in the gitalong, though, was that LCDC money can only be used to remediate blight and deterioration inside the urban renewal districts.  It can’t lawfully be spent on projects outside the urban renewal districts (not that the LCDC would let a violation of Idaho law slow it down).  An LCDC-funded mobile command post could only have been used inside LCDC’s fiefdom.  How would Kootenai County taxpayers react if the City refused to deploy the vehicle to a major disaster or incident somewhere in the City (e.g., one of the high schools, the hospital, the Fairgrounds, etc.) or outside the City on a mutual aid request (e.g., Coeur d’Alene Airport) because the disaster or incident was outside the City’s urban renewal districts?  The excrement would hit the spinning propeller, that’s how!

Yet a mobile command post complete with restroom(s), water, onboard electrical generator, refrigerator, communications, and appropriate furnishings would meet the City’s desire for an increased public safety presence in City Park during summer tourist events.  It would also give the City a command, control, and communications (C3) capability for emergencies as well as fun events throughout the City and County.   It would not be limited to occasional use in City Park.

In his presentations, Police Captain Childers seemed most enthralled with the public relations value of a precast concrete building in City Park.  Well-designed and attractive C3 vehicles are excellent PR magnets.  Captain Childers should contact the American Red Cross in Spokane and arrange to talk with one of the Red Cross’s Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV) operators in Spokane.  One of the operators I know told me that when he pulls the ECRV into a gasoline station, people always come up to ask questions and talk.  

Aren’t C3 vehicles like those in the links expensive?  Yes.  They are expensive to purchase, operate, and maintain.  Federal grant money is available for them, but of course that requires the dreaded careful planning and thinking.  Then again, the $50,000 the Mayor bragged about extracting from Ironman for the Kroc Center would have gone a long way toward helping fund one.

There are alternatives to purchasing a new C3 vehicles.  Reconditioned C3 vehicles are available from many of the manufacturers at reduced costs. 

Another alternative is to acquire a new or used Class A or Class C motorhome with the basic features such as restroom(s), water, onboard electrical generator, refrigerator, swing-out awning, and axle stabilizers.  Use volunteer labor or pay to have the interior reconfigured and industrialized as needed and the exterior painted and marked.  

Even used Class A or Class C motorhomes might be unacceptably expensive.  Or maybe not.  The City could look at acquiring a suitable vehicle through the US General Services Administration (GSA) Personal Property Donation Program.  The City is an eligible activity to participate.  Again, though, this would require thought and planning.  The Idaho contact is Bruce Hutchinson at 800-722-1629.  Eligible activities often pay nothing for the property itself and only a modest handling fee.  This would be a good way to enter the C3 vehicle arena.  Start modestly, plan properly, use it successfully and cost-effectively, then use past successes to justify upgrades.  To really get the Mayor and City Council on board with this project, agree to mount a bronze dedication plaque with their names right next to the door. 

Conclusion

All of us in Kootenai County whose property tax money helps enrich the LCDC need to pay closer attention to what the Coeur d’Alene Mayor and City Council and the LCDC are doing with our money.  We need to be very afraid when any of them use the adverb “only” before a dollar sign.  The numbers following the dollar sign come out of our pockets. 

We need to demand that our local governments do much better strategic and financial planning so that our tax money is spent prudently on projects, goods, and services that benefit everyone, not just a few. 

 

9 Comments

  1. Excellent work, Bill. This escapade underscores what I feel is an utter lack of planning and disregard for plans demonstrated time and time again by Mayor Bloem and the CDA City Council. It’s amazing how easily the weak accept — and even defend — such mediocrity. The people of Coeur d’Alene deserve better.

    Comment by Dan — April 5, 2008 @ 9:30 am

  2. Bill, I have to confess that I was not outraged when I originally heard about the cop shop in the park. It didn’t seem that bad to me, but I don’t know anything about law enforcement. Now, after reading all 5 of your informative posts (and I’m not just being being nice) I understand the problem: The $50,000 for the almost useless concrete building could have gone toward some sort of truly mobile response unit with actual professional capabilities. What a poorly planned, amazingly short-sighted decision by the Police Dept. as pushed firmly by City Hall. And I’m sure your theory is right, the urgency of this half-baked decision was the Ironman contract.

    Comment by mary — April 5, 2008 @ 10:13 am

  3. Dan and Mary,

    Thank you both.

    Mary, I’m going to address something you said, because its a commonly held misperception. You said you don’t know anything about law enforcement as if this was a law enforcement issue. This was not a law enforcement issue; it was a public administration issue. It had to do with the prudent (or not) expenditure of public funds in a way that provided maximum benefit to the taxpayers, citizens, and visitors. Modern (meaning, since about 1970) law enforcement chief executive officers need skills in planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting, critical thinking and analysis, public communications, and financial planning. Notice there was no mention of handcuffs, guns, or other cop-type stuff in there. While law enforcement experience may complement a competent administrator’s public administration abilities, it cannot replace them. To put it another way, having been a good cop does not mean the chief or sheriff will be a competent and qualified public administrator.

    I blasted Longo and Childers hard, and they deserved it. However, as feeble as this project was, it should never have made it past the City Council. Even Sandi and the Six Rubber Stamps should have stopped it. That is their responsibility. I watched and DVD’d the Council session. I was sickened at how often the Stamps uttered variations on “I’m not going to second-guess the police on this.” Why not? This wasn’t a tactical law enforcement matter; it was a strategic public administration matter. Sandi and her Stamps are supposed to be diligent stewards of the public money. They’re entitled, in fact, duty-bound to reject costly bad ideas.

    Thank you again.

    Comment by Bill — April 5, 2008 @ 11:54 am

  4. i am a bit confused; it says in the rules for this site that “personal attacks are not welcome.”, but mr. mccrory refers to the coincil members as “the Six Rubber Stamps”. isn’t that a personal attack?

    Comment by reagan — April 5, 2008 @ 4:23 pm

  5. reagan,
    No, it’s a comment based on my personal observations of their collective behavior. Your observations may be different.

    Comment by Bill — April 5, 2008 @ 5:40 pm

  6. There is a difference between characterizing a public official’s behavior in a meeting, his attitude toward the public, or his general demeanor, and just labeling someone with a name or attacking them personally.

    Referring to a government body as “rubber stamps” is as old as politics. Hinting that a public official is corrupt is not a personal attack. Stating that someone elected to office is “owned” by a certain corporation or special interest is not a personal attack (though it may not be accurate). Saying that an individual is “fat” or a “mouth-breathing illiterate” would be a personal attack. I trust that we all can appreciate the difference.

    I’ll note that the Policy also states “Feel free to criticize.” I believe Bill is doing just that.

    Comment by Dan — April 5, 2008 @ 6:12 pm

  7. Bill,

    The total lack of disregard this city has for the voting process is a slap in the face to its citizens. This bunker that they have proposed is going to cost, not only to much for what it is, but also to much for each move. It would require specialized equipment and personel to relocate it to any location. That alone would limit its uses. Add up the cost of moving it over the next ? years and I think you will find the overall cost for the mobile would be less. I think John Q. Public would be more likely to be in favor of purchasing one of these mobile units because of it’s versatility. It could be driven by anyone with a class D license and would require no special equipment to transport. It would not require specialists to set it up at, not only Ironman but, the fair, Car d’Alene, NIC, ANY schools, DARE projects, or any other community project or function. It can be driven in parades. Try doing that with a slab of concrete.

    Comment by concerned citizen — April 6, 2008 @ 9:11 am

  8. concerned citizen,

    You’ve succinctly summarized many of the advantages of a mobile command post over a precast concrete structure on a gravel base in the City Park.

    Even if we accept the flimsy and poorly substantiated reasons for this structure being needed in the Park as articulated by Wood, Childers, and Longo, and dutifully reported without question by the Coeur d’Alene Press, we still have to reasonably ask, “What if the same or even more serious problems you allege to exist in the Park suddently appear elsewhere? Are you going to move this precast concrete structure to Blue Grass Park? To Cherry Hill Park? To the Fairgrounds?” Of course the answer is “no” on two counts. First, the precast concrete structure can only be used inside the LCDC’s ever-elastic boundaries (unless “Shoestring George” Sayler gets the law changed.) Second, it takes time and money to relocate the precast concrete structure.

    No, the City wasn’t interested in finding and funding the solution that would best benefit everyone. It needed to find a fast solution that could be put in place by June 15, 2008. Promise made – promise kept.

    Comment by Bill — April 6, 2008 @ 9:45 am

  9. Bill,
    I have learned with some people you need to spell everything out to them in hope they understand it, which is the case with this mayor, city council and LCDC board.
    HAGD

    Comment by concerned citizen — April 8, 2008 @ 7:53 am

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